October 1987. I am about to start my degree at the University of Warwick.
Everything I need, namely my film poster of ‘Another Country’ featuring Rupert Everett, my boombox and mix tapes (everything from The Smiths to Five Star), a selection of batwing jumpers, several pairs of greasy DMs, lots of electric blue eyeliner and a worn copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, is in a large silver trunk which my dad has transported up the M1 in his Ford Capri.
I am sitting in the front seat urging the miles to pass as quickly as they can (and they’re passing pretty quickly anyway as the Capri has a 2.8 litre engine and my dad has a heavy foot).
I cannot wait to get to university, that special space between adolescence and adulthood. I’ve heard from older friends about all the drinking, the societies and the sex that’s on offer and I’m totally up for all of it.
I’ve imagined myself wandering around campus, absorbed in existential thoughts, trilling verses from French poetry and rehearsing lines from experimental drama pieces.
I’ve envisioned hanging out in the Union building on the lookout for my very own Rupert Everett (I am not, at this point, aware of why this will not be an effective route to love) and I’ve planned long nights in the library drinking coffee and composing essays which will make me a star of the department.
Things I have not imagined:
- Vomiting into every vessel I could find in the kitchen of a young man I barely knew, before passing out and waking up in his bed, in my underwear, the next morning. Very kindly he’d slept on the floor. Or rather, he hadn’t slept at all, on account of having to check I wasn’t choking on any more vomit.
- Crashing my new friend’s car into a stationary horsebox, effectively writing it off (it was an ageing Renault 5; I probably did him a favour). I was thirty before I confessed this to my parents.
Yes, it was an eventful Freshers’ week for me and one I’ll never forget (at least, I won’t forget the bits I can actually remember).
At the weekend, my husband and I took our younger son to university.
Where my dad had lugged the trunk in, dumped it in my room (under the stairs, right by the communal payphone) kissed me goodbye and driven home (doubtless eyes stinging all the way, but thought to that gave I none), our leave taking was quite different.
For a start, the lugging was done by older students, on hand to help empty cars and show newbies to their rooms.
A garden party for parents and new students complete with cream teas and an introduction to the chaplain (quaint), made for a more structured goodbye.
The traditional stinging eyes remained unchanged. I don’t think there’s any way of ameliorating that..
Each year, the university lays on a week of fabulous events. It is keenly aware of a responsibility to its students which didn’t really exist before student loans.
These days, there’s a Student Welfare meeting where the work of the on-site counsellor is explained and the art therapy, yoga and mindfulness sessions advertised.
The Freshers’ fair takes place over two days. It’s sponsored by Dominos Pizza and features hundreds of different societies, activities, entertainment and goody bags.
A far cry from the crush around tables in the Union at our place thirty years ago.
Back then there were no goody bags, no free entertainment (unless you count a high octane row about Section 28 which broke out between members of the Christian Union and the Gay and Lesbian Society) and definitely no free pizza.
Where we were expected to get drunk and get on with making friends, my son had already been acquainted with other students on his course via social media groups set up by the university to help break the ice.
And of course, where we had to wait for the phone to become free before we could phone home, he has his mobile with him at all times.
He has not called home. And there isn’t a queue for the phone.
Which I can only take to mean he’s enjoying himself too much to call. And I am glad.
Meanwhile, his father and I sit quietly in front of the TV. The shape of our family has changed. Slowly we realise neither of us knows how to use the remote control…
Have a great term, Freshers.